I’ve naturally been following the burgeoning cannabis industry as it takes shape just to the north of us, in Colorado. There’s Pueblo County, for example, 100 miles south of Denver — a onetime steel-producing region centered around a city of 105,000. They’ve signed on to the cannabis boom, mostly due to the promise of much-needed jobs.
That was two years ago. Since then there’s been growing opposition in the community, culminating in legislation to restrict cannabis businesses. Those bills were roundly defeated in November’s election. Still, it’s likely we haven’t heard the last of it.
Why the objections? The LA Times laid out the issues shortly before election day.
Apparently there are ‘side effects’ to the growth of a cannabis industry: Principally, an influx of folks from other states. Many are homeless or transient, aging or disabled, with medical and psychiatric problems that require a range of services and benefits well beyond access to pot. Suddenly Pueblo finds itself facing the problems of a much larger city. They have neither the money or the resources to cope. And cannabis industry taxes aren’t likely to provide those funds.
It’s a problem faced by other “boom towns” of past decades. Atlantic City, which bet large on legalized gambling, then fell into decline when neighboring states cut into the market. Rural North Dakota, which welcomed hordes of oil workers, overwhelming the state’s limited housing and infrastructure. That boom dried up when the price of oil began its long fall.
Lesson: The warning signs are there from the start. But it’s easier to ignore them when the cash is flowing and jobs are plentiful– even if they’re not really good jobs, but temporary positions that may not pay enough to cover all the expenses of life in a boom town.
Maybe Pueblo’s experience will be better. Let’s hope so, for their sake.